This is an A-Z of Do’s and Don’ts in formal written English. Kingsley Amis builds from Fowler’s earlier works, though he does push back on a few points. Many of his insights are indispensable, but not all of them.
Some of his suggestions are out of date. For example, nobody today worries about the proper usage (or pronunciation) of words like “Pall Mall.” Unless you are a 90 year old man wanting some cigarettes, you have probably never said this word.
Nonetheless, there are valuable rules and suggestions to which you should adhere:
alternate/alternative: alternate suggests “first one, then another.” Alternative suggests another possibility.1
And: it does more than link sentences together. Contrary to old wives’ tales, one may certainly start a sentence with “and.” And if one does start a sentence like so, it can have a stylistic impact.2
As to: don’t ever use it.
Because: Do not start a sentence with “The reason….and then insert because.” Even worse, never say, “Just because.” Rather, “Practice saying ‘He smashed the car because….”3
Convince: You are “convinced of” something, not “convinced to.”4
Gerunds: use the possessive case before a gerund.
Having said that: do not say that. Use “even so” or “nevertheless.”5
Hopefully: When someone says or writes, ‘Hopefully, the plan will be in operation….,” we know immediately that we are dealing with a dimwit at best.”6
However: use at the beginning of a sentence. It is not wrong to use it elsewhere, but the word always throws an emphasis on the preceding word.7
Medieval: “To pronounce in three syllables as ‘medd-eval’ or ‘mee-deeval’ in an infallible sign of fundamental illiteracy.”8
Prepositions: you can use them at the end of a sentence. As Amis notes, “The power of saying…People worth talking to instead of People with whom it is worth while to talk is not one to be lightly surrendered.”9
Shall/Will: Shall denotes futurity; will denotes intention.10
-t: Do not pronounce the “t” in words like “often” and “postpone.” As Amis notes, “But some good people, afraid they may be suspected of not knowing how to spell, say the ‘t.”11
“In his heart, and however he may vote, no Englishman readily allows linguistic equality to an American.”12
“Thus Wordsworth, in the Immortality Ode at least, was some kind of deist; the Archbishop of Canterbury is presumably a theist, or is paid to be.”13
I do have one minor criticism. Amis occasionally critiques a certain usage without telling the reader what the correct usage is, often when it is not self-evident.
1. Amis, 7.
2. Ibid, 14.
3. Ibid, 22.
4. Ibid, 36.
5. Ibid, 95.
6. Ibid, 158.
7. Ibid, 98.
8. Ibid, 132.
9. Ibid, 166.
10. Ibid, 204.
11. Ibid, 172.
12. Ibid, 9.
13. Ibid, 42.